Ritter takes stand, rejects accusations of racist behavior in Richmond discrimination suit
on February 29, 2012
Scattered across more than a month of testimony, former Richmond Police Department Deputy Chief Lori Ritter has been accused by some of her former colleagues of harboring a vendetta against them and lashing out at them with racially-tinged jokes.
But taking the witness stand herself for the first time on Tuesday, Ritter turned the tables.
“I’ve always felt that there was a good ol’ boys network” in the Richmond Police Department, Ritter said. “It was a predominately male profession … I didn’t like being excluded” from informal meetings among her colleagues, she added.
Ritter’s testimony Tuesday came as part of a discrimination lawsuit filed by seven high-ranking African American officers against Police Chief Chris Magnus, Ritter and the city of Richmond.
The lawsuit was initiated in 2007. The plaintiffs allege that Magnus and Ritter, who are white, created an environment hostile to black command staff officers, impaired their opportunities for promotion and made inappropriate racially-tinged jokes.
Ritter, wearing a dark purple dress and speaking in an even voice, testified on a range of topics and her own alleged actions, which have been explored during weeks of earlier testimony. Ritter, an avid outdoorswoman who loves horses, flew in for testimony from South Carolina, where she moved after her retirement in 2008.
During a day of cross-examination by prosecuting attorney Stephen Jaffe, two distinct phases of her career emerged. During the years of her career as part of the department’s upper crust, but before Magnus arrived, Ritter testified that she worked hard, but often unsuccessfully, to gain entry into the inner social circles of her mostly male and African American colleagues. But with new Chief Magnus taking the helm in January 2006, she was suddenly vaulted not into the new deputy chief position.
In a questionnaire Ritter filled out for the incoming chief in late 2005, she “expressed a frustration felt for years,” Ritter testified, including scathing assessments of her peers and the processes by which they were promoted.
“You viewed Chief Magnus as someone to change the department more to your liking, did you not?” Jaffe asked.
“Hopefully bring about some positive change,” Ritter said. “We had tough economic times at the department, the building was falling apart, morale was low.”
Jaffe pressed Ritter on the substance of her critiques, which included accusations that officers—including some of the plaintiffs—had criminal histories and questionable motives that she was concerned would “taint the development” of new recruits.
“Based upon what I was feeling at the time, I stand by it, yes,” Ritter said.
Ritter began her career at the Richmond Police Department in 1981, retiring amid the maelstrom of allegations and lawsuits in 2008.
Ritter testimony painted a picture of her as on the outside looking in as a succession of short-termed chiefs preceding Magnus led the department. The interim chiefs, including Terry Hudson, developed “cliques” with high-level male African American command staff officials, including plaintiffs Cleveland Brown, Eugene McBride and Johan Simon, Ritter testified.
Decisions were made and policies analyzed during informal breakfast and lunch meetings to which she was not invited, Ritter said.
“I was basically told ‘We just talk about guy things. You don’t need to go,’” Ritter said, adding that she felt “excluded.”
“I wasn’t angry, but I was disappointed and hurt by it,” she said.
Speaking for the plaintiffs, Jaffe alleged that Ritter harbored a “history of animus” over perceived slights and the success of her African American colleagues. As Chief Hudson approved a series of promotions for McBride, Brown and others in 2005, Ritter seethed with discontent, the plaintiffs allege, which laid the foundation for colluding with Magnus to make racist jokes and stymie the plaintiffs’ careers in the future.
When Magnus created the new rank of deputy chief in 2006, two spots that were second in command to the chief, in the department, he tapped Ritter for the first post a few months later. Ritter then recommended Ed Medina for the other slot. Although Medina had no college degree and was younger and less experienced than most of the plaintiffs, Ritter said the former Marine was a hard worker with a good attitude and could be “molded” into a fine leader. Medina is Latino.
“I felt Ed brought a lot to the table,” Ritter testified in court.
Jaffe responded by listing off each of the seven plaintiffs, asking Ritter whether she felt they were qualified to be deputy chief.
“Do you think Lt. [Johan] Simon was qualified?” asked Jaffe.
“At that time, no,” said Ritter.
“Lt. [Arnold] Threets?”
“No I did not,” said Ritter. She then alluded to what she called his “rigidity” and “inflexibility.”
“Capt. [Eugene] McBride?” asked Jaffe.
“No. in light his weaknesses discussed earlier,” Ritter said, alluding to earlier testimony in which she called McBride’s written and verbal communication skills “poor.”
“Capt. [Cleveland] Brown?”
“I didn’t think so at the time no,” Ritter said, alluding to what she called a criminal record that included fraud and a reputation as being “clownish.”
“How about Lt. [Michael] Booker?”
“Based on his personal issues that I don’t want to get into, no,” said Ritter.
“How about Lt. [Shawn] Pickett?”
“I think Shawn, like Ed (Medina), could have been molded into a good deputy chief,” Ritter said.
Jaffe then returned to Simon, who holds a master’s degree and has been through the FBI’s Academy, which is generally seen as a stepping-stone to leadership in local police jurisdictions.
“Excluding Lt. Simon’s problems, would he have otherwise been a good candidate?” Jaffe asked, alluding to the earlier testimony that Simon was beset by personal problems.
“I don’t know how you can exclude that,” Ritter said.
Throughout the day, Ritter offered her rebuttal to some of the accusations that have been raised throughout the trial.
Ritter said Magnus “absolutely never” used the word “jigaboo,” as Threets had testified to, saying that Magnus had used the term while telling a racially-offensive joke about Brown while in a car with Threets and Ritter.
Ritter testified that she was chagrined by Magnus’ repeated use of her photo, with slap-stick captions, in “Master of the Universe” parodies that he posted in common areas of the department. The plaintiffs have alleged that this depiction had racial overtones.
“It was a really lame attempt at a joke,” Ritter said.
Ritter testified that her own attempt at a joke backfired around the same time, when a 2005 training session for department leaders was delayed by tardy instructors. As the top brass sat waiting, making small talk, Ritter broke out with what she thought was a light joke. “Cleveland help me out, how about a little song and dance to get through this,” Ritter testified she said.
Brown and others have testified that Ritter’s call for Brown “to dance” was a humiliating and racially-tinged dig.
The building racial tensions in the department blew up, according to previous testimony, during a September 2006 police management retreat in Napa. When the topic of race was broached by Magnus as he delivered a Power-Point presentation, the meeting soon devolved into a verbal donnybrook, as the plaintiffs aired their concerns about what they regarded as racial discrimination in the new administration.
Ritter confirmed that, according to statements made by several witnesses in earlier depositions, Magnus told his restive subordinates at the meeting, something akin to: “You better not just wound me you better kill me because a wounded animal is more dangerous than a dead animal.”
At another point during the Napa retreat Brown came out and said directly that the perception in the department was that Ritter was a racist against African Americans, Ritter testified.
“I was pretty stunned by it because I hadn’t heard that,” Ritter said.
Testimony is set to continue Wednesday.
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